By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
Zarco 66 Earth Friendly Fuels doesn’t consider itself just a typical convenience store chain. In today’s hypercompetitive retail environment, it has to be much more.
“We’re not in the c-store business anymore, we’re an oasis to the customer,” said Zarco 66 President and CEO, Scott Zaremba. That mindset helps the eight store Lawrence, Kan.-based chain to keep growing with the times to offer customers the freshest food and the latest technology.
In the last year alone, the company has rolled out digital sign displays, added all new registers, piloted a drive-through concept, introduced touchscreen ordering kiosks and it is set to release a mobile app and introduce its first standalone Sandbar Subs location.
Growing and Growing
Zarco 66 is family owned and operated, and has been for 40 years. “The atmosphere we have in our stores, even through we’re in Kansas, is based on a tropical theme, so we have palm trees out front and waterfall-like features,” Zaremba said. “When customers walk into the store our employees are wearing flowered Hawaiian shirts, which is our uniform. Customer service and interaction is priority one for us, and always will be.”
The company has been enhancing its connection with customers through its Sandbar Subs and Scooter’s coffee house programs.
Sandbar Subs is division of Zarco 66, which is featured at three of its c-store locations. It features a made-to-order menu that boasts an array of fresh sandwich options. All food is prepared on site fresh. “We don’t use a commissary for anything,” Zaremba said.
The chain also offers a Scooter’s coffeehouse franchise at three locations.
On Aug. 1, Zaremba plans to opening his first standalone Sandbar Subs in Lawrence, Kan. “We had the opportunity to go into a location that is very visible and gives us more face time with customers,” Zaremba said. “One issue we still find today is customer perception of food in a gas station. But once they try our food they love it. We’re not trying to just match up to the competition, we’re trying to exceed the customer’s expectations with our products.”
Zarco takes food very seriously. Company chefs bake all breads onsite and company foodservice employees slice all the meats and cheeses. “This is our first experience with a standalone, so we’ll move forward carefully and see how it ties together with our Zarco 66 locations. That will determine how we want to proceed with the brand,” Zaremba said.
Ordering at Sandbar Subs is about to get even easier now that Zarco 66 is piloting a touchscreen ordering system that it developed internally. At its Lawrence Zarco 66 store, the chain has been testing the touchscreen at the food counter since the end of May and is also about to roll out an additional touchscreen to the fuel dispensers so that customers can order food while filling up.
The touchscreen is soon to be available at all three Zarco 66 Sandbar Subs locations, plus the standalone Sandbar Subs site. The touchscreens allow for easy upselling and a range of options—from combo meals, to the ability to add extra meat or cheese as desired.
When customers order from a touchscreen inside the store, they then get a receipt that can be brought to the checkout counter, while another is printed back in the kitchen for the employees making products. Plus, when customers order at the fuel pumps, they’ll also be able to pay right at the pumps eliminating the need for multiple transactions.
Stores also feature new digital signage, which debuted late last year. “The signage highlights all of our menu items and it also showcases digital videos above our soft drink area that highlight our product promotions,” Zaremba noted.
Six months ago, Zarco 66 completed the rollout of all new registers through Radiant Systems, now a division of NCR Corp. The registers can accommodate all foodservice and c-store transactions.
“Our biggest benefits with the registers is consistency in our ordering and tracking scan data inventory,” Zaremba said. “This gives us the ability to have orders for our vendors available or be able to push orders back to the vendors based on current inventories.”
With new registers up and running, the c-store chain is now turning its attention to rolling out a new mobile app in July.
“We had a version of a mobile app before for about a year that we removed because I didn’t like it. It wasn’t friendly enough for what I was looking for, so we decided to build our own,” Zaremba said.
The new improved app will allow customers to order products right from their phone and then pick their order up from the store. When it’s rolled out, the app will allow for the ordering of a select group of products, including made-to-order items from the foodservice programs, such as coffee, sandwiches, salads and wraps, and so on.
When customers come to pick up their items at their neighborhood Zarco 66, it’s going to be easier than ever thanks to a new drive-through concept that the chain has been piloting for the last 12 months near its headquarters in Lawrence.
“We took the car wash out and created a drive-through where customers can get anything that we offer in store, including our Sandbar Subs or our Scooter’s items without having to get out of the car,” Zaremba said.
Going forward, the company has plans to retrofit each of its locations with drive-throughs. “We’re working through the timeline now and looking at all the possibilities, but we think there is clearly a need for this type of service,” Zaremba said.
Zarco 66 plans to continuously work to keep its stores updated. It recently, for example, added automatic door openers in the restrooms, so when customers come to its foodservice locations everything is touch-free to enhance the perception of sanitation.
The chain is also continuing to earn foodservice credit in the community and get the word out about its Sandbar Subs line.
“We’re starting to cater out to other businesses. We supply the local hospital and we supply a couple of other offices with sandwiches,” Zaremba said. “Some large employers are adding our products at their business because they don’t want to have their own commissary anymore, so we’re picking up that slack and doing deliveries every day for them. It is an extraordinary area of growth potential for us.”